As a stateless person myself I was never fully involved in issues of statelessness in the United States before now. I was living a nice, comfortable life in Houston, TX and later in Los Angeles, CA. The statelessness dilemma sort of skipped my mind even after being on an order of supervision after my release from the detention center. Sometimes I ask myself, why? Sometimes I wonder why other stateless individuals who are trapped in the United States in legal limbo do not have the courage to move forward. They struggle daily with the statelessness madness, they could lay this problem on the table and bring awareness to the issue? I can kind of relate, why?
When you know you are stateless, there are no countries that can legally accept you or provide you some sort of relief and recognize you as “legit” person and provide you protection, but nevertheless you are confined in the safest country in the world, the United States, reporting on time to immigration officials every three month, granting employment authorization with the possibility of renewal every year, your fear of being deported and all other scary thoughts that occupy your mind of what to do and where to go gradually dissipates. You do not think of anything else but work, being able to supply yourself with food, and enjoy your time by traveling around the US if you are adventurous person. That’s how I lived in the United States, but I wanted more.
I wanted to be able to travel to other places around the world, to be able to visit coffee farms in Central/South America and Africa since I am a barista for specialty coffee, to be able to apply for job without going through immigration routine. I was really tired of reporting every three month to immigration authorities and let ICE agents know there are in fact no countries in the world willing to open their arms and grant me asylum especially when you come from safe country like United States where I had lived for the past 16 years with anticipation that US Government would implement new rules and regulations in regards to statelessness in the United States but I was wrong.
I just wish that all stateless persons who experience the same crisis and trying to overcome the obstacles of their one place confinement could raise their hands and fight for their human rights as defined in Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We just have to understand that all of us in this planet are human beings and UDHR along with ICCPR does not discriminate person based on national or citizenship status because any of us, no matter where we came from have the same basic human rights as accorded to us in international conventions and treaties our country is party of.
My unjustified exile and “forced” confinement brought a different view to the plight of stateless persons in the United States and all over the globe where statelessness happens. I am experiencing this daily and trying to fight and let the voice of statelessness be delivered to our top officials in Washington including White House. When you trying to take a short vacation during the holiday and spend some time in places you never been to but at the end told you cannot return to the country where you lived for more than a decade, where you contributed to the community, studied, worked, and truly in your heart believe that this is your home as you do not have any other to go to, this is painful, you think that this was some sort of mistake or misunderstanding on behalf of the immigration officials. You know that your rights were taken away from you, and everything you achieved and built in the country was destroyed and you become paralyzed. It makes you angry, upset, you feel lost, you are not wanted, you have no protection whatsoever, and people care less. You are trapped against your will to somewhere you never wanted to be. You feel like you are loosing hope because no one willing to come and rescue you. But the only weapon you have in your possession to fight for your rights and plea for help to return back is your voice, your pen, and thanks to the technology an internet when you can communicate with the world to let someone to hear your pain and respond positively to your S.O.S
I just want to urge all stateless persons to come and speak, let your pain be blown by the wind across the country, only together and united we can spearhead the movement of statelessness and push Congress and Administration to act quickly to solve the statelessness dilemma and provide the path for citizenship to you, to me and to other vulnerable individuals who are not recognized as citizens by any nations but stuck without rights in the United States. The flareup of statelessness in the United States should be unraveled. There is no other way to advocate on behalf of statelessness around the globe and pursue other governments to take the phenomenon of statelessness seriously and find remedies to heal the wounds of de-jure or de-facto stateless individuals if we continue washing the issue of statelessness away from our political agenda, here, domestically, in the United States. Blindness and silence are not the best way to ignore domestic problems. We should face it and fix it, and when it is done and solved we can easily pursue and convience other nations to adjust their citizenship act and grant legal status to stateless persons in such countries like Burma, Nepal, Kuwait, Dominican Republic, etc. We are the most powerful nation on earth and we can influence other nations to take the example from us and follow our model, but we must do something here first before reaching out to other foreign governments in regards to the issue of statelessness abroad. It is about time to establish truce between US Government and it stateless citizens and dig the way out of this disaster.
For the past 11 month of my confinement in the unbearable tropical climate with high humidity in South Pacific island of American Samoa (US Territory), I had chance to read and do my own research concerning statelessness not only in the United States but globally and I can relate myself to those marginalized population of our planet, feel their pain and suffering because I am one of them. I want to do more to advocate about statelessness and find some mechanism, some solution to have statelessness completely be arased so those estimated 12-15 million of us on this planet could enjoy the same rights as any citizens in the world, to feel safe and protected by the government of the country they live in. There is a lot need to be done on this side of human rights issue and thanks to UNHCR and some NGO’s we are moving close to find better resolution. And of course, without us, stateless persons, our life and our stories, of what we encounter daily to preserve our dignity and liberty that won’t be possible. So I encourage all stateless persons here, in the United States no matter where you came from, and all other stateless persons around the world, speak out, address your difficulties to UNHCR and let your new life begin.
I was personally so depressed, mad, I did not know what to do, I was running out of hope, thought about suicide on many occasions but I was able to find strength to fight and do not let my statelessness issue rotten me. I am very grateful to UNHCR for sending their team down to American Samoa to meet with me, to see me and understand my pain. I was able to find a bit of happiness in my terrible situation when I had crew members of UNHCR with me. Thank you Jennifer Utz and Patrick S. Molitoris. You guys brought me hope and happiness knowing I am not alone. I was able to find a bit of light in my dark tunnel. Most of us find difficult to feel what others feel, to be in someone shoes, because we all feel things differently. It was very very difficult for me to go to the airport and say good-bye to UNHCR team because it brought the nightmarish memory back to me, it was like a flashback to January 2, 2012 when I tried to board flight back home to Los Angeles without knowledge that I was not allowed to return. It was very painful seeing airline landing and happy faces holding their e-tickets and standing by the departure gate to be ready to board the flight back to the mainland. But I had to do it. I had to overcome this fear. And now I am back to the same confinement, to the same routine and to the same fight, trying to find a way to hold onto my sanity. It was the big let down after spending time with UNHCR team for a little while. It was like escaping my reality.
Sometimes you try to understand how this is possible. How can someone be banned to return to his place of residency where the person spent his youth and adulthood, the only country he can call home? It does not make sense to me at all. I just want immigration agents to have the clear picture of what it is to be citizen, hold on to your values and ideals, enjoy your freedom and than turn the coin upside down and try for a few minutes to understand what could happen if your freedom is ruined and your citizenship is revoked and the worst place you can find yourself in without escape? It will be hard but all we can to do is try to imagine this. And when you succeed this task you could not begin to fathom.
We, stateless persons are blinded by our own pain and misery and the only we can do is to ask the Government and UNHCR to help us out and allow us to get legalized and enjoy the same freedom as any of you do. All I want is to have my life back. I wake up to the absurdity of it all everyday. I go to bed thinking about the absurdity of it all. The only time I find peace is when I am sleeping. But all I can do at this point is to fight and fight and fight, to defy and defy and defy. When things seems the worst I try to find that “something” that makes me appreciate what I have, and what I have is my voice and advocacy on behalf of all stateless persons in the United States to establish legal link between us and the government we are connected with, and the country we live in. I know that a lot of people working on things where I am concerned, including Congressman office in DC, UNHCR, my lawyers, David Baluarte and Tammy Lin, freelance journalist Moises Mendosa who helped to have my story published, and others. I just want people know that anyone who was involved in my case and those who continue providing me an assistance they are making history in human rights issue of stateless persons in the United States. We are making history right now, and one thing I really want is to have provision in our immigration policy granting permanent residency and citizenship status to stateless individuals living in the US. We just have to want and see if it comes to fruition.
Stateless people no matter where they are witnessing the living “hell” because of lack of documentation and connection. They can be arbitrary detained, exiled, confined with no rights of freedom, movement, job, access to education, health care or provide basic living condition to themselves or their children. We see this everywhere around the world but the United States. For some reason our country decided to ignore this very important issue and shift the attention to statelessness to the third world. Burma has a major flaw in their citizenship policy when it comes to Rohingya population who have no rights as citizens in Burma despite the fact they were born there, lived there for years. Their lives made impossible by the local government to exercise their freedom as any other Burmese citizens. Rohingyas going through daily torture, they live in poverty, local officials use them for forced labor, they become witnesses of systematic physical abuse and rape. Their stateless status keep their children from attending schools, they cannot travel from one village to another due to lack of identity. Burma stripped them from citizenship in 1982 during military junta ruling identifying them as illegal aliens from Bangladesh. Bangladesh does not recognize them either citing on fact that they are local muslim ethnic minority from Burma, which basically keeps them in legal limbo status of statelessness. And what it makes more unspeakable is the leader of National League for Democracy Aung San Suu Kyi who was the voice for human rights issue in Burma, who fought for democracy in Burma, and is a Nobel Peace Prize winner did absolutely nothing to address and solve the plights of stateless Rohingyas in Rakhine. It is very disappointing to know that Suu Kyi became mute in regards to violence in her own country and kept her eyes down in regards to plights of stateless Ronihgays. Skanky reaction of Suu Kyi towards Rohingays where they constantly suffer persecution and treated inhumanely displeasing me completely. That’s not how democracy work and the transition period that Burma is going through just shows one more time that the sediment of military influence still persist in this country. And the conflict keep escalating and more violence irrupted daily unless the Government of Burma takes statelessness into account and adjust its citizenship act in order to grant legal status to estimated 800,000 stateless Rohingays in the country. Human Rights abuse of Rohingays can be both symptoms and cause of conflict.
Conversely, the deprivation of human rights can cause conflict. Nepal, on other hand introduced new legislation in its citizenship law where it basically promotes statelessness. It becomes a problematic as how a child born in Nepal may obtain citizenship by descent. Because according to new law the child born in Nepal could become citizen if both parents are citizens of Nepal. In the cases where one parent is citizen of Nepal and another one is not the child could not acquire Nepalese citizenship, literally leaving the child in statelessness limbo. The same we see in the Dominican Republic.
In the US we do contribute to statelessness by allowing US citizens to renounce their citizenship when they have no others. Some of us found ourselves in statelessness limbo in the United States after the dissolution of our former countries, like Yugoslavia and USSR. But again, we lived long enough in this country to be granted US citizenship status because US became our home and our country and in our own hearts, we are, Americans.
There will never be democracy unless all aspects of human rights covered. And that includes women rights, statelessness, LGBT, minority and majority, ethnicity, religion tolerance, freedom of speech, children rights, indigenous rights, protection of refugees, etc. etc. When everybody enjoy their freedom, have no fear to be persecuted or discriminated and where everybody’s rights are protected that is truly divine state with true democracy.
Human rights of stateless persons is not just a way of thinking and trying to find the details of the cause of statelessness, it is also a set of legal and political doctrine by pushing the issue harder in front of domestic lawmakers to introduce the framework for statelessness legalization. When we talk about human rights we should not exclude statelessness, because as stateless persons we should enjoy the same human rights as anyone else, and by saying that we should keep in mind that human rights are universal, inalienable and indivisible. Nationality and Citizenship structure relationships between people and the state the same way as Human Rights. Despite the trend of UNHCR towards increased protection of stateless persons around the world, stateless persons continue to suffer from widespread discrimination and human rights abuses along with LGBT community in some part of our geographic world. Even though a lot has been done in protecting LGBT in the United States, and thanks to the government we gradually made some improvements, we have not done anything to protect and prevent statelessness in the United States.
We should put aside our differences and stop blaming each other over our broken immigration policy and try to work together to fix our cruel immigration policy where it makes our nation to feel unwelcoming territory. And with all media attention towards undocumented immigrants and no single words about stateless persons in the United States we are developing anger, hate and racism towards immigrants either they are lawful residents, simply tourists or undocumented workers. We are the nation of immigrants and the United States would have never become the most powerful, great, vibrant nation of freedom and liberty if it was not because of immigrants. We should convince the US Government to accede to UN 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons that would cover stateless individuals who are currently residing in this country and those who renounced their citizenship based on some political opinion.
1954 Statelessness Convention is the most comprehensive international legal document providing protection for stateless persons around the world. This Convention defines who is stateless and set standards for assistance and treatment of stateless persons, and we urge the United States Government to look at this Convention with different perspectives and ratify this document as soon as possible in order to protect their own “citizens” without legal status as we do not have any other country to go to. Stateless people are the same as refugees and we are part of vulnerable group. Refugees are granted special protection under international law and the 1951 UN Refugee Convention is one of them and the US is a party of this Convention. Stateless persons granted the same protection under 1954 Convention and we should help them as well. When the person classified as “stateless” according to UN 1954 Convention, this identity becomes the key that unlocks all the benefits and special protection available under international law. UN 1954 Statelessness Convention has made serious headway in the decades since Convention was signed and member states of this Convention were able to fill the gap in their domestic policies dealing with stateless persons but some countries in Central Asia and other developing nations have done nothing to address statelessness but used their signatures in 1954 Convention as if they were leaving celebrities’ autograph for memorabilia art collection. I would like to remind all nations and member states of the UN that when we become party of international treaties and conventions we should follow the principles of those international instruments and promote the rule of law at the national and international levels. We should establish respect for all international documents we signed and ratified, only this will result in harmonious existence as society where peace is governed and everyone is protected.
The mission of UNHCR has expanded steadily, and today it is one of the largest and most important humanitarian agency in the world, and I put all my trust on UNHCR’s Washington office to help me and advocate on my behalf so I could return back home to the United States safely and quickly in order to resume my life, and I will do anything in my capacity to assist UNHCR in statelessness program in the United States and around the world to advocate and fight for those of us who were thrown away, forgotten, abandoned, and lost hope, those who feel unwanted. We must put all our forces together and unite in one cause, human rights protection of stateless persons.
With the efforts of UNHCR and the US Government we have to collaborate and work side by side in order to stem the tide of future conflict between stateless people and the government that is about to explode if no action will be taken soon to prevent disturbance and clashes as we have seen in other part of the world when it comes to the issue of statelessness. When people get burned out and fed up with “careless” attitude of the government officials towards the plight of stateless individuals whatever part of the world they live in, whose human rights are in violation, the conflict becomes inevitable. This stress and the negligence can further exacerbate serious tensions as we have seen in Burma in regards to stateless Rohingays.
The dialogue of establishing American national identity to stateless people in the United States should be resumed without further delay. The cycle needs to be broken and I think the peaceful resolution to adjudicate US national identity to estimated 4,000 stateless people in this country is the only way to do that. The more flexibility should be granted to balance the law when it comes to statelessness either in the United States or other countries with predominant stateless population.
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